Researching the occupations of your ancestors can be a great way to flesh out their lives, to demonstrate their social status and possibly to explain why they migrated around the country or overseas.
When researching the lives of your ancestors look at the work they did in their lifetime. Did they do the same job their whole life or have a number of different professions? Did other family members work in the same industry or carry on the family trade?
Here are just some of the resources available in the Genealogy Centre that might help you find out more about your ancestors and their occupations.
Miss T. Thompson changing destination board on tram. H98.105/853
Try searching through several years of electoral rolls and directories as these include names, addresses and occupations. The Sands & McDougall directories are particularly useful as they have a separate section on “Trades and Professions” – terrific if you’re trying to find all the undertakers or confectioners in Melbourne in 1858. Australian marriage and death certificates usually included the occupations of the individuals and birth certificates include the occupation of the childs father.
It’s also worth checking passenger lists as they frequently include a persons occupation as well as the name of their intended employer. Newspapers are also an excellent source of information as you can identify occupations in obituaries, advertisements and articles about businesses and individuals.
Group of Nurses H2002.125/5
Over the years a number of occupations were required to have state registration. Many of the Victorian registration lists were published and are now available online through the Victoria Government Gazette Online Archive 1836–1997. Lists of employees in the Victorian Public Service were also published in the Gazette between 1863 and 1975 and provide a wealth of information including – name, date of birth, where stationed, date of appointment, years in service, classification and rate of pay. To find out more about the Occupational Registers and Public Service Lists please go to the Occupation section of the Victorian Government Publications Research Guide.
The State Library holds indexes and guides to a range of professions, including railway workers, architects, publicans, doctors, lawyers and engineers. To see what we hold simply search the library catalogue for a particular profession, industry or company name. You might get lucky and discover a staff magazine for that company, such as What’s Brewing the magazine for staff at Carlton and United Breweries. If you have trouble finding what you want, please ask the library staff for assistance.
It’s also worth exploring the collections at Public Record Office Victoria. They hold registers and employment records for a number of Victorian industries, including railways, nursing, teaching and police. You can find more information on their holdings by going to their Employment Records wiki.
Pit boys and ponies, State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi H2006.196/9
As you research back in time you may discover occupations that no longer exist or that have changed over time and trying to find a definition for these jobs can be quite difficult. For instance, who would know that a Cutler was a knife maker/sharpener, a Chapman was a merchant, or that a Fell Monger was a dealer in hides and skins. To find out more about these old professions, you might like to look at some of the following titles in our collection.
- Trades and professions: the family historians guide by Stuart A. Raymond
- What did they do?: ancestral terminology by Penelope Christensen.
- The complete A-Z guide to early occupation: a complete guide to 1,700 old trades including job title & description
- A dictionary of old trades, titles andoccupations by Colin Waters
There are also a number of excellent lists of occupations available on the web.
- A listing of some early occupations
- Genealogy Quest – Alphabetical list of occupations
- Index of old occupations – Hall Genealogy
For further information on researching Australian professions have a look at the publication Occupational records in Australia by Cora Num.